February 7, 2018
Arrived Surabaya after 18 hours of travelling with three flights and two layovers, one of them being in Hong Kong. I left Fresno on February 5, 2018 and arrived in Surabaya on February 7, 2018. With the length of travel time coupled with the 15-hour time difference it was a strange feeling losing that much time. Because Surabaya is alcohol free due to the predominance of Muslims, Cathleen (CSL) suggested that I purchase wine in Hong Kong, which I did. Two bottles of Bordeaux was enough to last until we could arrive in Bali, where alcohol of any type is readily available.
When I arrived at the terminal in Hong Kong to wait for my Surabaya flight, I was shocked that I was the only female not wearing a hijab. I noticed some of them taking a photo of me with their phones. CSL had told me not to wear a sleeveless shirt or pants that went above the knee. I now understood why.
The Surabaya airport reminded me of Cabo San Lucas where there are hundreds of taxi drivers all vying to give you a ride. Little did I know that it would be this way in many places we went. After getting through the crowd of drivers, I ended up outside where there was another large crowd of people waiting to greet arriving folks. CSL was standing in the forefront and her blond hair made her easy to spot. I was glad to see a familiar face in all the chaos of the airport. The humidity slammed into me immediately making me remorseful that I had worn jeans.
Ali, our Uber driver, lives at the same boarding house that she does. The driving was absolutely crazy which is why CSL won’t drive in this country. There are so many scooters, many have more than one person riding on them. Often you see entire families on one scooter. I never saw a child with a helmet on. What is more amazing is that I never saw so much as a finder-bender accident either. Next to the terrifying driving, the second thing I noticed were all of the Mosques. They were in short distance from each other and all very large and ornate.
We went to my Bed & Breakfast, Anjani. My room, on the second floor, had two sets of bunk beds however I was the only one in the room. The bathroom was down the hall. There was no hot water. I was glad that she brought toilet paper for me as there wasn’t any at the B&B. In fact, we didn’t stay at a place where there was toilet paper until we landed in Bali days later. The cost for my room was $10 USD per night.
After settling in, we walked to her boarding house which was about a mile away. Her room was in sort of a townhouse type of neighborhood. The complex had guards at the entrance and exit. There was a large pool and tennis court amenities. Her roommates and landlord were all very nice.
I headed back to the B&B where I slept for eleven hours.
February 8, 2018
Nikki was the host at the B&B, she suggested several places to visit. She wanted to talk to me in order to practice her English. When I came down in the morning and sat in the kitchenette area she stopped her work and stayed with me until CSL arrived later.
We walked to CSL’s boarding house. Both days she walked to and from her place to mine because I wasn’t comfortable finding her house on my own and I didn’t want to get lost in this maze. A driver from the university where she will be teaching, Universitas Widya Kartika, picked us up and took us to her university. There, I met some of her colleagues and department heads.
The English Department Chairman, Ikka, took us with the driver to a large mall looking for “fish therapy” with no luck. What was notable is that the mall was like a maze – there were no walls separating shops – it was structured like a swap meet would be – except there were multiple floors like this. Each person we asked gave us a specific direction to take us to the fish therapy, yet at the end of our search it turned out there was no fish therapy at this mall. People just gave answers rather than saying they did not know. The merchants sat on the floor, some eating, as we walked by. I noticed this often through the country. If we appeared interested in their goods, they would jump up and engage, otherwise, they stayed on the floor. Often, there would be chairs available, but the merchants seemed more comfortable sitting on the floor. The mall had toilets that required squatting and had no sinks or toilet paper. There was a charge to use them.
We ended up in Bangkalan on Madura Island where we had the famous Nasi Bebek Sinjay (duck and rice). The meal was served with no cutlery because it is intended to be eaten with your hand. I was told that it is considered rude and offensive to use your left hand to eat, however, I was very clumsy with my right. Ikka assured me it was ok to use either since I was a Westerner. CSL and I were the only Caucasians and, like everywhere else, received looks from many patrons.
After lunch we drove along the countryside of the island. There are big houses that look abandoned, yet people seem to be living in them. Doors and windows were missing or open, it appeared that hardly anything was inside. There are children playing around the yard.
There is a massive amount of rice fields here and all over Indonesia. There are huts amidst the fields where workers stay in order to scare away birds.
We toured the Burkit Kapur chalk mine in Jaddih, Bangkalan. It was very scenic and a popular destination. Locals required tourists to pay to tour the mine. It was strange to be able to travel around a working mine while they were actually working. It made the experience even more interesting.
Late afternoon we made it back to the B&B. Next door was a salon that offered cream massages for $7.50 USD each. It was a great way to end a long day.
Dinner took us to the Galaxy Mall where we had fabulous sushi delivered to our table via an adorable automated little train.
February 9, 2018
I awoke to the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) at 4:30 am, followed by chanting – all done on loud speakers that resonate throughout the area.
We left Surabaya and headed to Malang. We were told that there is a fish therapy place there. We found the fish at the Wonosari Tea Plantation. The fish spa provides a strange sensation. They latch onto your feet and suck the dead skin off. Known as ‘fish doctors’ they’re actually called Garra Ruffa. It’s an experience worth doing just for fun.
Later, we caught a bus headed toward Mount Bromo. The experience was very stressful. The bus dropped us at an unexpected place – they said we would have to catch a mini bus to complete our journey. The person we dealt with was yelling at CSL in order to get his point across. We had already decided where we were going to stay at Mount Bromo however, this man wanted us to stay at another place that was much better and was less expensive. Being that there is a language barrier, the ‘rich American’ attitude and the inability to fully trust anyone in the tourism industry, this part of our journey was the most stressful.
We did board the mini bus and continued our journey to Mount Bromo. It was dark when we arrived. The hotel the tour operator had suggested was unacceptable. The mini bus driver suggested yet another place, Adas Losmen, that we deemed to be a little better. The sheets smelled and were unclean. The bathroom, which was down the hall, had a shower and toilet, no paper, towels or sink.
February 10, 2018
We left at 3:30 am to ride in a Jeep to the base of Mount Bromo. We climbed to the top in the dark so that we could watch the sunrise from this vantage point. It was beautiful and worth the trip.
Back at the Jeep, we headed to the base of the volcano that had erupted just two years earlier, in 2016. It is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. There are areas that are blocked off from tourists due to its imminent danger. CSL and I hiked to the rim. I bought a small bouquet of flowers, which in keeping with the local tradition, I threw into the volcano as an offering.
When we returned to our ‘hotel’ room, someone had entered and apparently tried to get into our luggage. Thankfully, CSL had brought locks which kept them out of our belongings. We tried to tell the operators, but they were unresponsive.
From Mount Bromo we drove a total of seven hours in two different vans to get to Bondowoso. We stayed at the Arabica Homestay coffee plantation. We were so tired from our day (beginning with a hike at 3:30 am, followed by seven hours of travel) that we went to sleep at 8:30 pm. We have to be ready to leave at 1:00 am for the next day’s adventure.
February 11, 2018
Our driver came for us at 1:00 am for departure to Ijen crater to see the blue sulfur fire. It is only visible in the dark and only in two places in the world, here and in Ethiopia.
We hiked three miles up to the rim of the crater and then three miles down to the sulfur lake. Sulfur clouds are in a constant state of movement. When the clouds arrive where you are, you must wear a mask to protect your lungs from the fumes. When we were descending down into the crater, we had to make way for the miners who are bringing sulfur up. It looked like a very difficult job. When the sun rose, we could see the large sulfur lake at the bottom of the crater. As we hiked out, we were able to see the lush forest that surrounds the crater. Because of the strenuousness of the experience, there are many ‘taxis’ offering to take you up or down the outside of the crater via cart. Fortunately, we didn’t need one. Another fabulous and ultra-unique adventure.
We were driven to Banuwangi to hop on a bus, which drove onto a ferry heading to the Island of Bali. By the end of the day, we had been in a van, bus or ferry for over ten hours. We had hiked Ijen for six hours. We finally ended up at Grandmas Hotel in Seminyak. After our days of roughing it, the hotel was a very welcome treat. It was by far the most modern hotel we had stayed in thus far. One would think that given our long, physical days we would have wanted to rest; however, we were so delighted with our new surroundings that we changed and headed to the beach where we had a fabulous meal while sitting on bean bag chairs with our toes in the sand watching the sun set.
While we relaxed, peddlers came up to us to display their wares or services. They sold kites, rugs, jewelry and hats. Some offered pedicures and manicures at astonishing low prices.
Speaking to one peddler was like feeding bread to a pigeon. In the blink of an eye, we were deluged with more peddlers perceiving a quick sale. A few of them even became a bit aggressive, one didn’t want to move from directly in front of me, even when I had asked her to move.
February 12, 2018
We had our first relaxing day and we needed it. We ate omelets for breakfast, which was a change from the Indonesian food we’d been eating. We went shopping. Because the prices are so low here and prices are negotiated we were able to buy quite a bit of items for less than $100 USD. Never accept the first or even second price in most of Indonesia.
We walked along the beach, ate quesadillas at a roof top restaurant and had one-hour massages for $7.50 each. We were so tired from our week that we needed a day of nothing. I do enjoy the Hindu culture here. Their demeanor is endearing.
February 13, 2018
We left Seminyak this morning via Uber. We had to walk a block away from the hotel to catch our ride because Uber is not allowed here. We prefer it because it’s less expensive than traditional taxis and the price is paid online so no money exchanges hands and the price doesn’t change mid-way through a ride.
Upon check out, the hotel staff gave us each a yarn bracelet that provides prosperity and tranquility. After I received my bracelet, I noticed that most people wear them here.
We arrived to our new town, Ubed, early. The city is located in the center of Bali and therefore has no beachfront. However, the hotel would turn out to be our favorite one of the entire trip. Stepping into Ketut’s Place was like stepping into a secret garden.
Once settled, we walked to the Monkey Forest which consisted of Balinese Long Tailed Monkeys. It was quite the experience. I bought small bananas inside the forest and was told to hide them in my purse, which I did. There were five tribes of monkeys. They are very territorial. It was exciting and a little bit intimidating to see hundreds of monkeys wild and free within the park. I pulled out a banana to feed one and it climbed up my purse to get it. I reacted by throwing the banana away from my body. With the rest of my bananas, I quickly pulled out of my purse one at a time and threw them toward the monkeys. I didn’t want another one climbing on me, even though I saw other people enjoying this.
Later, another monkey jumped on my purse, grabbed my water bottle, jumped away, unscrewed the top and drank the contents. Someone called him a rude, cheeky monkey – which he was. I was surprised to see such an aggressive animal have no boundaries in a public place. Enjoyed the experience immensely.
That night, I watched Bali United FC play in the Asia Cup. Fun to watch a game of soccer, wherever you are in the world. They play again tomorrow night, but the game is sold out. We gave the hotel owner’s son money to purchase Bali jerseys during the next game. I was able to watch it with the staff at the hotel in the lobby.
Ubud is known for its art and there is plenty here. Lovely pieces of art in many galleries. Prices here are mostly fixed, versus the negotiation process we experienced with businesses in Seminyak.
Being that we’re about at the halfway point of our trip, we took our clothes to a laundry. We traveled this entire way with just small carry-on luggage. I can't imagine trying to lug a regular size piece in this part of the world. For under $3 USD I was able to have most of my clothes cleaned, dried and folded in less than a day.
February 14, 2018
Had breakfast poolside and then walked to a nearby yoga studio for a 90-minute workout. There are two kinds of yoga, yen and yang. Yen is more stretching, yang is more difficult and movement orientated. This was the yen type. Frankly, I would have preferred the yang.
When I returned to the hotel, I had Kopi luwak coffee. It’s coffee that sells for $50 a cup in the US. Its main ingredient includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (a type of cat). While it sounds disgusting, it was very good. It has a robust flavor.
The remainder of our day was spent exploring the shops in town and finding the popular Tegallalang Rice Terrace bamboo bridge.
February 15, 2018
We left early this morning for Gili Trawangan. We began with a van that took us to Padang Bai Port and then boarded a fast boat. There was room at the top so I sat there to breath in the ocean air. From the top, we could see dolphins. After our four hours of travel we arrived at Gili T (the island’s nickname). It began raining heavily and the dirt roads soon became mud pot holes. There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island. Taxis are horse drawn carriages. Our hotel was so close that we decided to walk despite the warm rain.
After checking into our 2-story hut at Vila Ombek Hotel, we tried to obtain massages nearby. However, we were told that they had run out of oil. I bring this up because there were other instances on the island where the establishment had run out of something pertinent. I guess that is how you know you’re in a secluded area – there are shortages of items from time to time.
At the hotel, our bathroom was downstairs and open-aired. The shower had no ceiling at all. It was an unusual experience to get clean this way.
That evening there was a lunar eclipse. There were too many clouds for us to see it, however, they did have a celebratory event nevertheless. The beach front ‘Dark Moon’ dinner was a full buffet which included live music, Gili traditional dancers and a fire dancer.
February 16, 2018
Moved to The Beach House for our last night in Gili T. We went snorkeling after breakfast with three stops near Gili T, Gili Meno and Gili Air. We were supposed to be able to see sea turtles but the water was too rough to do so. The fish and coral that we did see were beautiful. After snorkeling, we docked at Gili Air for lunch. We liked it better than T because it was less crowded and more tranquil. If I ever come back to this part of the world, I’ll stay at Meno or Air instead of T.
At The Beach House we had another outdoor shower. Better than Vila Ombek because we didn’t have to climb down stairs to get to it (and half the price).
For dinner we had steak from Australia on the beach. It was an excellent meal and the first, and only, steak we had in Indonesia.
February 17, 2018
We traveled back to Bali today. When we arrived at the ferry dock in Padangbai it was overwhelming. The taxi drivers were very aggressive. We had pre-paid for our transportation with another company but the taxi drivers tried to take the tickets away from us. Thanks to the warnings while on the ferry, we didn’t fall for their tricks. While the crew was unloading our luggage, some of the taxi drivers would try to grab our luggage in order to carry it to their vehicle. We found our van in the parking lot. The taxi drivers followed us all the way there, they were overly persistent. I would count this as the most insane experience of the trip. Ok, maybe the second most insane experience because the driving in this country definitely took first place.
We found our van and headed to Kuta. The hotel, H Sovereign Bali, was near the airport. We got there after 4:00 pm and there wasn’t much to do so we swam, had massages and dinner and then watched television (something we hadn’t done much of up to this point).
February 18, 2018
We flew from Kuta’s airport to Jakarta today. At the airport, we had to get through four different stations where our passports were checked.
We arrived at our final hotel, FM7, in the early afternoon. We went swimming, sat in the hot tub and sauna and had dinner in their rooftop restaurant. It was a very low-keyed day – probably the most relaxing of the trip.
February 19, 2018
At 3:00 am I began my 23-hour journey home. Traveling this way provided a rare opportunity for an outsider to glimpse the myriad of cultural, visual and topographical personalities within Indonesia’s borders. I would not recommend travelling this way in Indonesia without a local guide. I’m grateful for the opportunity that CSL afforded me, it made for an extraordinary, unmatched experience.
There is no tipping. The exception is in some of the tourist areas where they add a ‘service fee.’
People on government assistance have to work. In Surabaya they were given brooms and required to sweep the curbs of streets and sidewalks, pick up trash, etc. It encourages them to find employment.
Much of Indonesia is Muslim. A traveler can tell immediately based on the abundance of Mosques. They are spaced in relative close proximity to each other and are very ornate.
There are prayer rooms in odd places so that Muslims can pray whenever there is a call to prayer.
In other parts, such as Bali, the primary religion is Hindu. A traveler will notice the abundance of temples. Many homes have private temples in their yards. Offerings are made to the various gods each day at homes and places of business. There is also much incense being burned daily.
Drivers were extraordinarily reckless and seem impervious to the rules of the road. They drive too fast and have little consideration for scooters, pedestrians or other vehicles. I did not see one speed limit sign. The paradox is that they rush in their vehicles but in every other aspect, they tend to pay little attention to time.
Many are heavy smokers. There seems to be no non-smoking laws. There are close-up photos of people with smoke-related diseases on all packs of cigarettes. It does not appear to be a distraction from the vice.
There are little or no paper products, except for the heavy tourist locations. No toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, tissue, etc.
Despite the otherwise significant Indonesian culture, there are enormous Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King restaurants scattered around. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks are also prevalent. The old world and new world seem to be colliding here and it’s worth the effort to witness the metamorphosis.